A reflection of memorization

※ This article discusses my sleep schedule in Japan and its effect on studying.

I was raised in a family, which was never really fond of memorization. What I mean is that we tried to think critically, but learning something by heart was always a no-go for us. In family discussion, this topic was raised several times. In general, I agree: Learning by heart does not contribute to your mental capabilities as much as rational thinking. If you have to tackle an exam, learning by heart will make you forget about it after the exam. At least in theory.

These days, I think the issue is rather different. I had to tackle Kanji, which I consider one of the most difficult memorization challenges, I had so far. Cramming Kanji into your brain just for your weekly exams won’t get you far. The final exam of the semester covering all Kanji, you studied, will make you recognize that you already forgot them right away after one week. The solution is actually repetition. You just cannot expect your brain to remember something it heard only once. SRS stands for Spaced Repetition Software and attracted my interest during my time here in Japan. In general, I use WaniKani (an SRS implementation) to study Kanji recognition. My relationship with Anki is a little bit more difficult. My point here is: Be sure to revise the content multiple times if you want to memorize something. Mnemonics can also help you depending on your learning style.

At the same time, I continue my current approaches regarding my sleep schedule. I want to sleep 7 or 8 hours, but in 50% of the occasions, I am off schedule. I often make todo list and define what I want to finish on a day. I sit down and work hard to finish it. I succeed, but finish much later than I anticipated. So often I work until 1am, 3am or even 4:30 and I have to get up at 7:30 by the latest to go to university in the morning. I think it is difficult to tell whether I can finish my workload without spending endless nights of work. But you can in general critizise that I try to tackle to many subjects at one time, taking to much classes or don’t skip unimportant parts of projects. Often I am very tired in class and after coming back home, I sleep for 3 hours to regain some energy.

My typical day begins at about 07:15 and I have classes until 14:50 with small breaks. Afterwards, I have to wait until about 16:20 to go to Aikido and I spend about 3 hours there. I return home at about 21:00 after buying some groceries and begin to cook. It is about 22:00 or 22:30 after dinner with Martina and I take a shower. So between 22:30 and 23:00, I can sit down and work on my daily homework. I never finish it in my waiting time before Aikido. My homework is really just the basis. Actually I should study and memorize about 40 vocabulary on 4 days of the week. And here is the issue: I am really bad at this.

At the beginning of the semester, I tried to use Anki, but never found the time to revise the vocabulary more than once in the train. And I always forget them very soon. As pointed out I learned that I need repetition to remember and I began to just take the book and study the right column while covering the left column. This works, but it does not stick to my brain for long. Why?

As it turns out, my memorization capabilities are heavily influenced by my sleep schedule. If I sleep regularly enough, I can memorize new vocabulary much better. I also pay more attention in class and revise the vocabulary if I come across the words in class.

So my point of this blog entry is: Never underestimate how important repetition for memorization is! And ensure a proper sleep schedule to enhance your memory!

Good luck with your studies!